Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Nepal in transition: abolishing the monarchy

Nepal in transition: abolishing the monarchy


Santosh Giri [advocate/human rights lawyer, Supreme Court of Nepal]: "The abolition of Nepal’s nearly 240-year-old monarchy and declaration of Nepal as a "federal, democratic, republican state" was made by an overwhelming majority in the interim parliament late last month. 270 members in the 329-member House of Representatives voted on December 27, 2007 in favor of ending the monarchy (3 pro-monarchists cast against the motion while the rest abstained). However, Nepal will become a republic only after the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, which is due to be elected by mid-April next year. The decision also serves to put the peace process back on track and paves the way for elections notwithstanding the fact that elections have been postponed three times since June 2006. Constituent Assembly seats has been increased from 497 to 601, of which 335 (58%) will be elected on the basis of proportional representation, with 240 to be directly elected and 26 to be nominated by the country's cabinet.

Background

Since 1990 restoration of democracy, there were 3 elections in 1991, 1996 and 1999. Numerous governments were formed and numerous failed. The parliament was dissolved in 2002 which paved way for an absolute monarchy again. In 2005, the king staged a coup d’état. Seven major political parties united and formed an alliance with the Maoists to overthrow the king in April 2006 after dozens of innocent killings. In April 2006, the king restored the parliament which eventually led to abolishment of the monarchy. The November 2006 agreement between the political parties and the Maoists came as a peace pact which enabled a cease-fire and temporarily ending the conflict in which more than 13,000 people died since 1996. In January 2007 the Maoists entered the parliament and the cabinet in April 2007. In September 2007, the Maoists walked out of the government citing differences and demanding fulfillment of their demands of abolishment of monarchy and restructuring of the electoral system. They also threatened to quit the parliament in December 2007 if their demands were not met. Meanwhile the Constituent Assembly elections were postponed thrice, firstly citing lack of preparedness, secondly unfavorable security situation and thirdly the Maoists opposition. In December 2007, a new accord was signed which agreed on both demands and the Maoists reentered the cabinet. In December 2007, the parliament with a majority decision abolished the monarchy (subjected to ratification by the Constituent Assembly Parliament) and restructured the electoral system.

Nonetheless, the Maoists continuously lost support because of continued terrorism through splinter groups such as Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) etc and its sister organizations such as Young Communist league, All Nepal Free Student Union (Revolutionary), All Nepal Free Trade Union (Revolutionary) and others. Extortion, protection, murder, kidnapping, disappearance, property seizure, forced displacement, forced recruitment and censorship against newspapers are rampant. Moreover, in the southern Terai plains region they have been involved in inter-ethnic rivalry, resulting in several deaths. The seven-party alliance, on the other hand is widely criticized for its lack of control over the heightened insecurity, increase in crime and impunity.

Nepal's transition from a monarchy to a republic

Nepal’s monarchy has drastically changed from being traditional, titular, democratic, absolute and stripped-off-powers until recently. The recent abolishment of monarchy has shelved the 240 year old rule in the history forever. A challenging transition phase is yet to be completed for a complete transformation to a republic. Since April 2006 parliament has made strong decisions on monarchy such as stripping off its powers, titles, rights and privileges of the king and finally the abolishment of the institution.

Criticisms are widely being drawn regarding the abolishment of the monarchy based on the following:

(a) Uncertain Elections: Uncertainty of elections still persists amidst ongoing Terai (Southern Plains) Crisis, where several violent and non-violent groups have put forth demands to ensure the rights of the Madheshis (people from the Southern Plains) who have been discriminated historically in all walks of life. Many doubt if an election will ever occur for some time! If there is no election, there is no endorsement! In an event the election go through, it will be obliged to endorse the motion of abolishment of the monarchy and will not have the power to amend or reject it.

(b) Just a Fuel: The recent decision is also understood as a last resort to elongate the November 2006 agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) which seemed to be breaking away until December 2007. There were vows from the Maoists to quit parliament after they walked out of the government and to take up arms again to wage a ‘decisive war’. That agreement came three months after Maoist rebels had walked out of the government in September 2007, demanding immediate abolition of the centuries old institution. The abolition of the monarchy and change in electoral laws has been two key campaigning issues for the CPN-M.

(c) The South Block: India has been against the idea of abolishing the monarchy as much as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which insists that the monarchy in Nepal is essential for the sake of Hinduism.

(d) A Ploy of the SPA-M Alliance: There have been accusations from the Terai based parties and groups that the agreement and the recent decision is nothing but a mere ploy to give continuance to the ruling government which comprises of seven major parties and the Maoists. Accusations also raise serious concern over the lack of proper action by the government on the nations increasing insurgency and displacement of the citizens.

(e) Pro-monarchs: Recent demonstrations by the pro-royalist parties including RPP and RJP (led by ex-prime ministers Surya Bahadur Thapa and Lokendra Bahadur Chand suggest integration of their like-mindedness and protesting the parliaments recent decision. Hindu extremists and traditional royalists have already started raising their voices against the abolishment. A recent interview of Bharat Keshar Singh, ADC to the King, shows the Royalists perception towards the recent developments. The royalists still claim the parliament and the results derived thereof as unconstitutional and ad-hoc in nature. Although such issues are not primarily significant at this point, it may still suggest a plot to be staged in future.

(f) Nepal Army: Previously known as the backbone of the Monarch, Nepal Army boasts itself as a People’s institution now. It has openly abstained from being associated with any ‘ism’ and has clearly denounced integration of the Maoist soldiers with the Nepal army. Maoists have already raised serious concerns about this. Though Nepal Army has made its stance clear that it shall not be involved in a coup, a possibility cannot be ruled out in a South Asian Political perspective.

(g) Intra-Party and Inter-Party Factions: Be it Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal or RPP, all of these have factions. There have been several breakaways and integration among each of them, which raises serious concerns over a sustainable peace, peace-pact and the results we have generated.

Strong provisions have also been made for removing the monarchy before the perspective polls in an event the king is found to "be creating serious hurdles to the Constituent Assembly Elections". A two-thirds majority decision of the interim parliament will be required in such situation.

The perspective on the abolishment of monarchy and the politics of Nepal does not necessarily represent the perspective of Association of Nepalese Lawyers in the US [ANLUS] as a whole or in part. The author is responsible for the views and perspectives. Information provided is not politically biased nor supportive neither opposing to any. Information contained in the article is generated from news and articles published in the newspapers in the internet and through personal knowledge."

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